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Vergas author at book-signing

Vergas author Ernest Frances Schanilec will sign copies of his books this Tuesday at Book World in Detroit Lakes, starting at 10 a.m. DL NEWSPAPERS/Vicki Gerdes

It’s been 14 years since Vergas-area resident Ernest Schanilec published his first book, “Blue Darkness.”

“It’s now in its third edition,” said Schanilec proudly.

A mystery-suspense novel, the book focused on the adventures of Tom Hastings, a former CIA agent who is now retired and living in the fictional northwest Minnesota community of New Dresden — modeled on Schanilec’s own hometown, Vergas.

Since then, Schanilec has published eight more books in the Hastings mystery series, as well as three works of historical fiction that tell the story of Hastings’ ancestors.

All 11 of Schanilec’s books will be available for sale when he appears at Book World in Detroit Lakes this Tuesday, Aug. 5, for a book signing starting at 10 a.m.

The latest in that historical fiction series, “War & Beyond,” released this spring, tells the story of Tom’s father, Frank Hastings, and as the title suggests, it begins with his time as an Army soldier in World War I and follows him into his family life back home in Minnesota.

“This story leads up to the events of ‘Blue Darkness,’” said Schanilec, noting that with “War & Beyond,” his tale of the Hastings family has come full circle.

Though it is a work of fiction, Schanilec did quite a bit of historical research to make Hastings’ story as authentic as possible.

In fact, when the story follows Frank’s nephew Grady into battle on the beaches of Normandy in World War II, Schanilec said he drew on the memoirs of a North Dakota veteran named George Ulseth, an army lieutenant who was part of the battle that came to be known as “D-Day.”

“Some of it is almost verbatim,” Schanilec said.

In the book’s acknowledgements, Schanilec refers to Ulseth as “a World War II hero.”

Now that he’s finished telling the history of the Hastings family, Schanilec said his next book would return to the world of Tom Hastings to unravel another mystery.

A retired dentist who practiced in the Fargo-Moorhead area, Schanilec said he had been drawn to writing from an early age, when the short story he wrote in English class was chosen to be read aloud by his teacher.

“I guess I’ve always been a writer,” he said.

But he was drawn into writing full-time after he retired and moved to his current home on Rose Lake, in rural Vergas.

“I met some ladies who told me my imagination was really strong, and recommended that I start writing — so I did,” Schanilec said.

Since then, he’s never looked back. Though many of his novels are set in Minnesota, others have ventured across the North Dakota border into Fargo, and to places south such as Florida, Texas and Missouri — all places he’s visited in his travels.

“If I’m going to use a certain location in a scene, I will go there to visit and describe it in detail,” Schanilec said. “I spent a lot of time in downtown Brainerd studying those buildings, for the opening of my novel ‘A Night Out in Fargo.”

(That book opens in Brainerd, though much of the story’s central mystery does, as the title suggests, unfold in and around Fargo.)

The lakeshore home that Tom Hastings lives in, on the fictional Borders Lake, is described much like Schanilec’s own home on Rose Lake.

Still, Schanilec added, “I do most of my research on the Internet — it’s incredible what you can find.”

Though he markets his books at local book sellers such as Book World — in both Detroit Lakes and Park Rapids — as well as Bev’s Book Nook in Perham, and both The Attic Shop and Goodman’s Supermarket in Vergas, Schanilec says, “I do most of my selling at arts and crafts shows.”

A familiar face at the Phelps Mill Festival and Battle Lake’s Railroad Park, he has also been a regular at both Detroit Lakes’ Street Faire at the Lakes, and Arts & Crafts in the Park.

The latter event, held just this past Sunday, was what Schanilec said was “my best day (selling) of the year.”

He hopes his visit to Detroit Lakes on Tuesday goes equally well.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454